Content Warning: This article contains mentions of anti-trans violence in Pakistan.
Pakistan has launched a hotline that, it is hoped, will help trans people when dealing with discrimination and harassment. There are, however, concerns as to whether police abuse of the LGBTQIA+ community will compromise the project before it has gained momentum.
At the end of September 2022, Pakistan decided to launch its first hotline for trans people in order to provide them with support and protection from discrimination. The government’s effort to protect trans people from the horrific violence they face could not come sooner.
In 2019, the country’s Supreme Court legally designated trans people as a third gender. The reason given was that they had previously been denied healthcare treatment as doctors were unable to decide on what ward to treat trans patients in.
Last year Pakistan also opened its first state-run school for trans students in Multan. Classes are offered to students from grades 1-12 and serve to help the community receive better access to education.
The reforms are welcomed, but cautiously
While there are signs of a changing environment, trans people living in Pakistan are targeted for sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and even murder, with the police themselves proving the greatest problem. Safety and trust in government institutions and particularly the police is, unsurprisingly, a challenge for trans and gender-diverse people in the country.
The government says that these new policies and the hotline are designed to better protect the trans community in Pakistan. Salman Sufi, an adviser to the current Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, stated on Twitter that the hotline is now live and connected to top police officers and the Ministry of Human Rights.
The hotline comes as the Pakistani government is dealing with religious conservatives’ attempts to disrupt allowing trans people to choose their own gender identity. The country has been trying to pass amendments to a bill that would give trans people the freedom to choose the gender they identify with on official documents, such as educational certificates and national identity cards.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Almas Bobby, a spokesperson for the trans community in Pakistan, identified a critical danger posed by the new hotline service:
“We are glad that this so-called hotline has been set up for us … [but] how can we can call on this hotline when our phones are snatched? … Who harasses us the most? … Yes, indeed, the police. And we will have to call the police to seek justice.”
Bobby estimated that there are at least 10,000 trans people in Pakistan.
Signs of progress for the trans community in Pakistan, but there’s a long way to go
While this new hotline represents a step towards ensuring that trans people in the country will have a better support system in the face of discrimination, and abuse, it is clear that there is much work to be done to better ensure safety for the community.
Passing the transgender rights amendments represents a critical first step. Meanwhile, tackling the endemic police abuse of trans people is essential in ensuring projects such as the new hotline are able to achieve the intended progress.